In Pierre Poilievre, the federal Conservative Party of Canada has found its most effective, electable leader since Stephen Harper.
And perhaps someone who can vanquish Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the next general election and cast the federal Liberal Party to the political sidelines.
While one may not like the way Mr. Poilievre achieved his victory – among other things, by flirting with freedom protesting extremists and promulgating crazy conspiracy theories – it must be acknowledged that his straight-ahead march to his party’s leadership was singularly impressive.
In fact, it was one of the most masterful leadership bids in recent Canadian history. Mr. Poilievre’s overwhelming victory gives him total control over his party and caucus. There is no dispute about who is in charge, something a couple of his predecessors (see Andrew Scheer and Erin O’Toole) could never say.
This will allow the new Conservative Leader to focus on his primary task: preparing to defeat Mr. Trudeau in the next election.
There are a number of reasons why the new opposition leader is not to be underestimated.
It begins with the fact he is a gifted communicator – in both of the country’s official languages. Many of the short, four-to-five minute videos that the new Conservative Leader posted during his campaign were brilliant. Sure, some were absurd – like the one about the historical significance of a post in his log cabin – but most were not. One on the cost of housing in Canada was talked about for weeks.
There is nothing to suggest Mr. Poilievre won’t bring the same game to a federal campaign.
While some of his most successful campaign talking points – the failure of the government to effectively run airports and passport offices, the waste of time that is the ArriveCAN app, the infringement on “personal freedoms” that vaccine mandates pose – are not likely to be viable targets when the next election is held, other issues Mr. Poilievre focused on during his leadership run will be.
When Mr. Poilievre zeroed in on pocketbook issues, the sighs from the Prime Minister’s Office were audible. The Liberals know that the high cost of everything is not a problem likely to disappear in the near term. In crass political terms, it’s gold for opposition parties, especially in the hands of someone who’s as exceptional a speaker as Mr. Poilievre.
The mountainous level of debt that the Liberals have racked up is also not going to disappear before the next election. That is red meat for a Conservative leader, and Mr. Poilievre is going to dine out on it for some time to come.
Mr. Poilievre also has a now, not-so-secret weapon in his wife, Anaida, who introduced herself, and her husband, after his victory was declared on the weekend. An immigrant from Venezuela, she has a compelling story to tell about her family’s arrival to Canada, where they started with nothing. She can describe the journey in three different languages. She is not shy of a microphone. She seems like a natural campaigner.
It’s not difficult imagining Mr. Poilievre mining the immigrant vote in the same way the Harper Conservatives did. And that vote is often concentrated in suburban ridings, including Greater Toronto, an area in which the Conservatives need to do well in if they hope to reclaim power.
Mr. Poilievre has his own unique story to tell, as the child of an unwed teenaged mother who put her son up for adoption. A couple of French Canadian school teachers from Saskatchewan would be the beneficiaries of that decision. But the Conservative Leader’s upbringing stands in stark contrast to the silver-spoon childhood of the current Prime Minister, a fact of which the Conservative leader is sure to remind voters.
Having a French-sounding last name will not hurt Mr. Poilievre in Quebec, nor the fact he is fluent in the language. This will help enormously during the French election debate. The fact his wife grew up in working class Montreal and speaks fluent French also helps. This is not Andrew Scheer the Liberals are facing.
This is not to say that Mr. Poilievre is flawless, not by a long shot. He can come across as smug and arrogant, especially in the House of Commons. His overtures to the lunatic fringe in Canada are unnerving. Whether this becomes less of an occupation now that he’s won the leadership remains to be seen.
A lot can happen between now and the next election. But as things stand now, Mr. Poilievre represents the best chance the Conservatives have had of regaining power in a long, long time.
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